Friday, November 29, 2019

Has Wilder Silenced His Critics?

Throughout Boxing history there are countless stories of fighters who are able to achieve a level of dominance as world champions throughout their careers. From Joe Louis, to Rocky Marciano, to fighters like Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, and Mike Tyson to name a few, there have been several dominant champions who each made their footprint in the history of the sport. All of these fighters each had lengthy reigns atop Boxing’s Heavyweight division.

As much as Boxing history is filled with stories of dominant champions, so too are stories of the criticism each champion had to deal with. All of the former Heavyweight world champions mentioned at the beginning of this column though dominant in their respective reigns as champion, were also not immune from criticism.

While criticism can range from the average fan, to the knowledgeable fan, to those who cover the sport like yours truly, to even fellow fighters, most dominant world champions throughout the entire sport of Boxing deal with some form of criticism at some point in their reign. Enter WBC Heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder. 

Wilder's rise to Heavyweight dominance is one that has been chronicled extensively by this observer here on The Boxing Truth® as well as in other media outlets. Despite a career knockout percentage of well over 90%, Wilder has also not been immune from criticism. In his case, most of the criticism has been rooted in his not facing s significant test for several years and once he was tested, more questions being asked than were answered.

Thus far only two tests have been provided to the reigning WBC Heavyweight world champion that created both questions and debate about Wilder. This observer is referring to his bouts with Luis Ortiz and undefeated former Heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury. Two fighters who each were able to give Wilder more difficulty than any previous opponent. Although the outcome of Wilder’s encounter with Fury, a split decision draw remains a topic of debate throughout the Boxing community, his encounter with Ortiz also left questions for the champion to answer.

As most Boxing Aficionados know, when Ortiz met Wilder in March of last year he became the first fighter to provide the champion with a stern test. Although Ortiz would suffer three knockdowns over the course of the fight and would ultimately be stopped in the tenth round, he gave a solid account of himself in defeat. For the first time in Wilder’s career not only did he have to overcome being hurt for the time, but also had to overcome what appeared to be a deficit on the scorecards to stop an opponent late in the fight. Though Wilder would experience similar circumstances in his fight with Tyson Fury in December of last year in getting two knockdowns to retain his world championship by a draw, Ortiz’ performance against him was deserving of a rematch.

The rematch would come on November 23rd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV. In previewing this fight, I stated that Wilder needed to avoid the straight left hand that Ortiz was able to land frequently in the first fight. The second encounter began at a measured pace and  in some ways it resembled the first fight. Ortiz found success in landing his straight left hand both to the head and body of Wilder.

Wilder meanwhile, was consistent in throwing his jab and landing his right hand on Ortiz. Although both fighters executed their offense sparingly, it seemed that Ortiz had a slight advantage due largely to his waiting for the right opportunity to come forward and land his left hand. It can be a difficult task to determine who has the upper hand in a fight that is fought in the way that several rounds in this rematch were, but often it will come down to who is able to execute their offense in w way to stand out from their opponent. For a portion of this fight, that fighter was Luis Ortiz in this observer’s eyes. 

While the aspect of statistics were not overwhelmingly in favor of either fighter, it appeared as the fight entered round seven that Deontay Wilder was facing a deficit on the scorecards. The champion however, would show that in Boxing and by extension all combat sports sometimes all a fighter needs is one punch/strike to end matters.

In the closing seconds of round seven, Wilder connected with a flush straight right hand to the head head sending Ortiz down on his back on the canvas. Although Ortiz tried to beat the count, he was unable to do so and the champion successfully retained his crown. Wilder’s tenth successful title defense of his WBC world championship puts him among a select group of fighters to have compiled a double-digit number of successful defenses. 

In scoring his second knockout win over Luis Ortiz, Wilder may have begun to answer some of his critics. From this observer’s perspective, Wilder did accomplish his goal of answering questions that surfaced against the first fighter to give him a test by removing doubts by producing a more conclusive outcome the second time around.

If there is one thing that should be a concern going forward comes from comments Wilder made in an interview with the Fox Sports broadcast team following the fight where he eluded to not needing to win rounds due to having the punching power to end a fight at any time. Although Wilder’s record speaks for itself in scoring knockouts in forty-one of his forty-two career wins cannot be disputed, a mentality of not needing to score points to win fights is a potentially dangerous one to have.

In some ways however, it does remind me of stories I have heard and read through the years of a similar mentality that George Foreman had during his first reign as a Heavyweight world champion in the 1970’s. Much like Wilder, Foreman was noted for his punching power and was not known as a fighter who tried to win fights by scoring decisions. Although Foreman met his match when he was defeated in October 1974 by Muhammad Ali, when Foreman began his comeback in 1987 he was w more tactical fighter and while he still maintained the punching power that struck fear in many Heavyweights, he also developed the poise to win rounds in order to score decision wins when he had to.

This is something Wilder should keep in mind as he moves forward. It appears Wilder’s eleventh title defense will come in February 2020 against the only other opponent to put a scare into the champion, Tyson Fury in what will be the third rematch of Wilder’s career. Even though Wilder’s power was able to score two knockdowns of Fury late in their fight in December of last year, he should keep in mind that without those two knockdowns, Fury would have won a decision over him. With this in mind, the champion should keep in mind that the ability to win rounds is important. Even if a fighter is blessed to have the punching power that Wilder has, sometimes a fighter needs to score points in order to win a fight. Simply put, sometimes the opportunity to score a knockout will not be there.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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